Cynthia’s Articles & Videos

The Authorial Voice in Today’s Discourse: The Page, Podium, Platform, Persona (And Nurturing Your Writer’s Heart) by VCFA WCYA inaugural Katherine Paterson chair, Cynthia Leitich Smith, May 1, 2022.

By Cynthia

Fighting for Libraries, On and Off the Page: A Conversation Between the Co-Authors of the “Blue Stars” Series by Kekla Magoon and Cynthia Leitich Smith from School Library Journal. PEEK: “The ‘Blue Stars’ series is about collaboration and teamwork, and we can be, too.”

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s “Reservation Dogs” Read-Alikes from School Library Journal. PEEK: “The recent TV series finale of “Reservation Dogs” closes three award-winning seasons of authentic, resonant episodes set on a modern-day rural Oklahoma rez and centered on four Native teens within their intergenerational tribal community. After you’ve finished watching this remarkable show, reach next for these literary novels—and one nonfiction gateway book—written by Indigenous voices, for more characters that reflect a full range of emotion and authenticity—humor, mystery, intrigue, and healing.”

“Writing As Activism: A Collaborative Conversation,” The ALAN Review, Fall 2022. An in-depth interview by Cynthia Leitich Smith, featuring Angeline Boulley, Jen Ferguson, Eric Gansworth, Byron Graves, Darcie Little Badger, Tasha Spillet-Sumner, and Anton Truer.

Finding Friends (And Ourselves) In Books by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Harper Stacks. PEEK: “Native fiction…educates young readers, albeit at a slant, and often without them realizing that they are learning per se. Any authentic Native book will shift the knowledge base and mindset of its readers for the better.”

Ready for the Challenge by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Literacy Today. PEEK: “In pushing back against misconceptions, prejudice, and erasure, today’s Indigenous book creators are crushing the myth of extinction, both on the page and as literary role models.”

Decolonizing Neverland: How Native Voices are Reimagining Books for Young Readers by Cynthia Leitich Smith from World Literature Today.

How Native Writers Talk Story: Honoring Authentic Voices in Books for Young People by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Traci Sorell from School Library Journal. PEEK: “We are the first storytellers on this continent. But despite the increasing visibility of Native and First Nations today, many readers are still new to our ways of making sense of the world through literature.”

Featuring Cynthia

In Conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith and Shaun Taylor-Corbett from Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine. PEEK: “…host Jo Reed welcomes author Cynthia Leitich Smith and narrator Shaun Taylor-Corbett for a lively conversation about making memorable audiobooks for children and young adults.”

Podcast: Finding Audience: Cynthia Leitich Smith on Story as a Circle and Making Magic Out of Nothing from Kidlit Happy Hour. For classroom use, the interview begins at about the sixteen-minute mark. PEEK: “Realize that you’re part of a larger storytelling tradition, that they too faced some significant challenges and found a way to navigate them. And they have left you with gifts, and you will do that in turn as you raise up those voices that emerge after your own.”

Podcast & Transcript: Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee) YA and Children’s Author and Curator from the National Endowment for the Arts. PEEK: “It’s very important to me that my Native characters be three-dimensional, resonant people with a full range of humanity. Very often for Native kids, my books, because there still aren’t enough of us, maybe the first time they see someone like themselves in that way on the page, I want them to ring true….”

Authors With Their Own Publishing Imprints (and What Books to Read from Them) by Susie Dumon from Book Riot. PEEK: “…especially focused on the present and future of North American Indigenous land and people. Since it was announced in 2019, Heartdrum has released an impressive number of books….”

New FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER Books Announced and More from SLJ’s “Native Storytelling in Children’s Books” Webcast by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. PEEK: “All of my Indigenous books are somehow interconnected,” said Smith (Muscogee citizen). “When we return to communities in our books, it’s not a marketing approach; it’s not a shortcut of any kind. This is a literary device we’re using to show intergenerational extended family and community ties by conveying it through several books over time and, in my case, across formats, genres, and age markets.”

Process Talk: Cynthia Leitich Smith on HARVEST HOUSE from Uma Krishnaswami. PEEK: “My original concept was the fantastical one. What if a haunted-house attraction—the kind of place people go during October for a fun, safe scare—was really haunted? So, a ghost mystery was a given from the start. Problematic Halloween/horror tropes include the ‘Indian burial ground’ and ‘tragic Indian maiden.’ As an author who engages with the tradition of Story, Harvest House was an opportunity to unpack and address both through a Native lens.”

Why Representation Matters with Cynthia Leitich Smith from SCBWI Podcast. PEEK: “I’ve always thought about the kids first…their emotional experience…how the book is going to impact them.”

Book People You’ve Gotta Know in Austin’s Literary World by Sharyn Vane from Austin American-Statesman. Peek: [Cynthia Leitich Smith:] “[W]elcoming, effective institutions are built by dedicated, hardworking book lovers. In the creative community, we’re so much more than collegial….We’re committed not only to our own literary works, but also to lifting up one another and collaborating as leaders in the wider national and international conversations of books.”

On Lines: SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA from On Lines: Connecting Story and Song, One Line at a Time. PEEK: “I chose to forewarn young readers to brace themselves for high stakes and page-turning peril, but at the same time reassure them that the narrative voice would guide them safely through it.”

In Their Own Words: What Cynthia Leitich Smith and Brian Young Want You to Know by Kara Stewart from School Library Journal. PEEK: “SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA shows readers that blended and found families are real families, that the love and respect within them can empower and challenge us in ways that make us more thoughtful, empathetic human beings.”

SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA and Other Works by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Karen McCoy. PEEK: “…the fact that J.M. Barrie elected to include Native people in his classic fantasy raised several questions for my inner child. How did they get to Neverland? Why were they behaving so strangely?”

Q&A With Cynthia Leitich Smith from Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb. PEEK: “My hope is that my retelling captures all the magic and wonder of the original while also inviting in and respectfully validating a wider range of young readers.”

Process Notes: SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk. PEEK: “Barrie’s instinct to bring together white British and Indigenous characters wasn’t the problem, it’s that the latter were dehumanized in the process. And like the body of children’s literature, Peter Pan is now tasked with redeeming himself, with opening his mind, with recognizing that all the world isn’t his alone for the taking. By welcoming characters like Lily and her little brother Michael into his heart, by welcoming blended and bicultural families like the Roberts-Darlings into his Home Under the Ground, Peter will finally—with effort—be able to grow into all he was meant to be.”

Guest Interview: Kathi Appelt & Cynthia Leitich Smith on Rebirth in the Neversea from Cynsations. PEEK: “They’re together on the same journey—Lily and Wendy. They’re mirror characters who grow to recognize and appreciate their shared qualities over time. Ideally, we all mature to face reality without surrendering our sense of wonder.”

Representation Matters! Cynthia Leitich Smith, Rosemary Brosnan and Ellen Oh from Remember Reading? PEEK: “Author-curator Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek), author and co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, Ellen Oh, and HarperCollins editor Rosemary Brosnan discuss how the Heartdrum project came to fruition and a sample of the beautifully diverse stories now available to young readers.”

Episode 436 (Podcast): Curating a Middle Grade Anthology of Intertribal Stories: Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Gabriela Pereira from diyMFA Radio. PEEK: “In this episode, Cynthia and I discuss… What elements are important to include when writing specifically for Middle Graders and how MG is distinct from YA. Why it’s important to create an inclusive feeling  of a ‘we’ not ‘me’ book within diverse literature.”

Cynthia Leitich Smith: Lifting Up Native Voices by Krystyna Poray Goddu from Publishers Weekly. PEEK: “The word community comes up often in conversation with Smith. ‘I’m a community author,’ she emphasizes. ‘I want to do service to children through story. I want an opportunity to provide hope and support for Native American writers and children. I’m also invested in a community of craft, a community of writers. I want to help build a community and to lift up voices, especially those that haven’t been heard.’”

A Book Invites Young Readers to the Powwow by Laura Simeon from Kirkus Reviews. PEEK: “It’s important that we get to know characters whom we can see as friends and whom we can identify with as representative of shared parts of ourselves.”

Lone Star Listens: The Heart of Cynthia Leitich Smith by Michelle Neby Lancaster from Lone Star Literary Life. PEEK: “Don’t let anyone else tell you what your writing life should look like, and don’t give them the power to take away your joy. Define what ‘success’ means to you, and celebrate every victory, no matter how small.”

An Insider’s Guide to the Austin Children’s Book Community by Leila Sales from Publishers Weekly. PEEK: “Energized by [Kathi] Appelt’s instruction, Meredith Davis went on to establish the local SCBWI chapter. ‘We didn’t have big names,’ Smith said. ‘None of us knew what we were doing, but we loved each other, and we loved books, and we just sort of held hands and found our way through it.’”

Interview from Wild Things: MFA In Writing for Children and Young Adults Blog by Kim Purcell. PEEK: “…my online philosophy mirrors my in-person philosophy. I try to be helpful, assume the best of people, err toward forgiveness, lift up spirits, embrace opportunities to play and encourage hope.”

“Readers Are Realizing Their Hunger For Our Stories”: Native Literature for Kids and Teens by Kelly Jensen from Book Riot. PEEK: “Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek Nation) has been an advocate for Native children’s literature since the publication of her first book Jingle Dancer 20 years ago. She’s continued to champion on behalf of children’s literature broadly while furthering her passion for sharing Native stories for young people.”

Cover Reveal: Ancestor Approved, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. PEEK: “’The story behind Ancestor Approved is truly one of community and collaboration, much like the intertribal powwow reflected in the book,’ explains editor Cynthia Leitich Smith. ‘The contributors joined efforts—by text message, email, and an online message board—to create this engaging collection of interconnected stories, poems, and visual artwork centered on a two-day event, including the characters’ preparations and journeys home. In fact, Nicole Niedhardt’s gorgeous, dynamic cover draws its inspiration from Jessie, the protagonist of Kim Rogers’s short story, Flying Together.’”

Cover Reveal for Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. PEEK: “I’m fascinated by the conversation of books over time, especially new stories that talk back to those that are widely considered classics. Sisters of the Neversea is one of those books, offering a modern take on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, one that’s centered on its girl characters and told from a decidedly Indigenous point of view. It unpacks the toll of problematic books on children while reinventing Neverland to showcase an exciting, heartfelt story of family, community, hope, and Fairy dust.”

Heartdrum Author-Curator

Less Than 2 Percent of Children’s Books Feature Indigenous Characters. Heartdrum Wants to Change That. by Kaiya Little from Texas Monthly. PEEK: “We decided to lean into fiction that was really centered on individual kids, that other kids can get to know and become friends with and care about on the page,” Smith says. “We wanted to give them three-dimensional people that they could fall in love with, both Native and non-Native kids.”

Indigenous Book Authors Band Together by Patricia M. Morris from Publishers Weekly. PEEK: “That’s changing thanks to the efforts of Smith and other advocates in the children’s book world, with more Indigenous-written titles coming to market, deeper support for those books, and a reinforcing of ties among Native authors.”

Native Narratives: Native Authors on Recent Gains in Children’s Publishing by Marva Hinton from School Library Journal. PEEK: “In the last five years, several Native children’s writers, such as Carole Lindstrom, Angeline Boulley, and Kevin Noble Maillard, have risen to prominence. Their success is encouraging to more established writers like Smith who started publishing when the industry wasn’t as open to Native voices.”

The Heartdrum Imprint and Native Children’s Literature: A Conversation with Rosemary Brosnan and Cynthia Leitich Smith by Jonda C. McNair from The Reading Teacher.

How Children’s Literature Is Getting More Diverse, and Why That Matters by Mark Swartz from Early Learning Nation. PEEK: “Author and curator Cynthia Leitich Smith introduced the Heart Drum imprint of HarperCollins, which offers books for and about Native Americans. She stressed that many titles feature everyday plots. ‘We are not defined by the bad things that have happened to us.'”

The Beat of Heartdrum by Cynthia Leitich Smith from HarperStacks. PEEK: “We’re sending the message that Native kids can be heroes that everyone cheers, that Native young readers belong in the world of books, and that every kid who enjoys an adventurous, funny, resonant, or magical story will have a chance to embrace Native heroes, too.”

Children’s Book Imprint Heartdrum Focuses On Contemporary Native Stories by Rachel Kramer Bussel from Forbes. PEEK: “The imprint is expected to start curriculum integration in classrooms in the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, with Lakota educator Andrea Page creating teacher guides for all Heartdrum titles.”

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith and Dawn Quigley by Zach Miller from Indigenous Representations Newsletter. PEEK: “Native and non-Native young readers all deserve better, more inclusive stories—across the board. Heartfelt stories, laugh-out-loud stories, page turning adventures! Any kid can be a hero that everybody cheers. Of course, that includes Native kids and literature!”

Heartdrum Authors Panel Discussion featuring Christine Day, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Brian Young moderated by Celeste Trimble from Tucson Festival of Books. CYN NOTE: Video panel presentation.

Celebrating the Launch of Heartdrum: featuring Cynthia Leitich Smith, Christine Day, Dawn Quigley and Brian Young, moderated by Ellen Oh from HarperCollins, We Need Diverse Books and Birchbark Books & Native Arts. CYN NOTE: Video panel presentation.

Talks with Roger: Cynthia Leitich Smith & Rosemary Brosnan by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. PEEK: “…there used to be conversations—and there still are to an extent, particularly with BIPOC creators—where authors would struggle with: Can I get away with saying this? Will this alienate too much of the mainstream audience? Will the reviewer get it? There was that effort to navigate what’s sometimes called the white gaze. That has started to fall away, and the work is stronger because of it.”

Austin Author Shares Native Stories in New Children’s Book Imprint by Sharyn Vane from the Austin American-Statesman. PEEK: “Heartdrum’s books aim to fill a significant gap in the market: Only 1 percent of children’s books published in 2019 featured Native or indigenous characters, according to the most recent survey from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. By design, the books are also page-turning contemporary stories, Smith said.”

Cynthia Leitich Smith and Rosemary Brosnan, Native Creatives: Behind the Scenes at Heartdrum from BookPage. PEEK: “We’ll publish mostly contemporary fiction—realistic and fantastical—that centers young Native heroes. Why? Because we are still here, and that’s where the biggest need is in the body of literature…. that will translate to both concept and narrative books. We’re going to publish poetry and short stories, prose and graphic format books, picture books, chapter books, middle grade and young adult titles, and series and standalone titles.”

Interviews: Cynthia Leitich Smith and Rosemary Brosnan: Behind the Scenes at Heartdrum by Stephanie from BookPage. PEEK: “I’m seeking high quality literary and visual art that centers young Native heroes and advances the conversation of Native literature. In nonfiction manuscripts, the second part of that equation is especially important.”

Heartdrum Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith and Rosemary Brosnan by Nancy Bo Flood from Bookology. PEEK: “We are publishing in all genres and for all age groups, from birth through young adult. We’re open to everything: picture books, board books, fiction for all ages, nonfiction, graphic novels. We’re not concerned with over-explaining to a non-Native audience, but we’re including back matter that will be helpful to readers and the adults who read the books with them.”

WNDB Native Writing Intensive Program Coordinator

Native Writing Intensive Is a Community and Career Building Opportunity by AJ Eversole from We Need Diverse Books. PEEK: “When asked about the biggest takeaways of the intensive, attendee Byron Graves (Ojibwe) said, “That I belonged in the literary world. That I wasn’t alone. And that I had a group of like-minded people as a support system.”